September 11, 2016 5:00 pm JST
My Personal History

Dhanin Chearavanont (11): Pigs, pocket money and a priceless lesson

A group photo from my days working for a government cooperative. My boss, Dr. Chamnan Yuvaboon, is fourth from right, and I am second from left. (Courtesy of CP Group)

While working in the feed business under two of my older brothers, I also earned a little pocket money from pigs.

My second-oldest brother, Montri, had gotten into the business of selling hogs, and I ended up helping him. My job was to transport the live hogs from Thailand to Hong Kong, where they were sold.

Some 2,000 or 3,000 hogs would be loaded onto a single transport ship. The animals were confined to a small space and protected from the wind and rain by a roof made of palm leaves. But the voyage was rough, and many of the pigs died before the ship arrived at its destination.

I was promised a bonus of 100 baht for every hog above the typical number that reached Hong Kong alive. So if 10 more hogs than usual survived the trip, I would receive an extra 1,000 baht. In those days, 300 baht was enough to enjoy a splendid meal at a first-class restaurant in Hong Kong.

I surmised that the cause of the hogs' deaths was the heavy rocking of the ship. The bow was battered by the wind and waves, and hogs loaded in that area were easily injured. I made an offer to the man who oversaw the dockhands at the wharf: "I'll pay you 20 baht for each pig that doesn't die," I said. He accepted gladly and had the hogs loaded into the middle or rear of the ship.

I also promised to pay the dockhands 30 baht, which left me with 50 baht per hog. Perhaps because of the way the winds blew, it was best to put the animals in the center of the ship from May to September and at the stern from November to February. Simply changing the location of where they were loaded reduced their mortality rate. This experience taught me the importance of transport management. It also taught me another valuable business lesson: People will work harder if you share the profits with them.

Change of jobs

In the late 1950s, the Thai government decided to set up a cooperative to manage the exports of chicken and duck eggs. After working for around two years in the family business, I announced that I wanted to work as an official at this cooperative.

Until then, merchants had freely exported eggs to Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Macau, but this trade was monopolized by the new government-affiliated body. This had the advantage of eliminating competition among merchants, which in turn meant prices became fixed. The cooperative also provided the government with a steady flow of tax revenue.

The government had tapped a senior official to serve as president of the cooperative. This man, Dr. Chamnan Yuvaboon, had earned a law degree in France and was head of the Interior Ministry's administration bureau.

When I started working for the cooperative, I was put in charge of exports.

"You show promise. Get to it," Yuvaboon said as he assigned me important responsibilities.

And so a young man came to have sole authority over the processing of chickens, ducks and geese throughout Bangkok. Under Yuvaboon, I learned how to mobilize an organization -- how to lead people, how to bring an organization together, how to chair a meeting. He also gave me the task of reporting to the board of directors. I was even assigned a private secretary, all at the tender age of 20. This secretary was an official sent over by the government specifically to assist me.

I was never involved in even the slightest incidence of corruption, and I never had a run-in with the law. Despite my youth, the cooperative's members all came to respect me.

Around this time, Thailand's poultry industry was facing a big problem. Processing poultry for meat, which includes removing the feathers, was done largely by hand. With more than 100,000 birds needing to be processed each day, doing this job manually was becoming too time-consuming and too costly. One way or another, a cheaper, automated process had to be found.

Dhanin Chearavanont is chairman of the Charoen Pokphand Group.

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